The Wind of Change

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Among all the renewable energy sources Africa can benefit from, wind power surely deserves particular attention. According to data from GWEC, when it comes to the deployment of wind-based energy solutions, the continent is endowed with an incomparable potential. The numbers speak for themselves: the esteemed annual capacity reaches a stunning 180,000 TWh, enough to fulfill the energy needs of the continent 250 times over. 

Some countries stand out as virtuous examples: Algeria, Senegal and South Africa have already undertaken a path that represents a bright chance to provide through wind safe, clean and reliable energy to the 600 million inhabitants of the continent who, to this day, can’t benefit from it. Nevertheless, Africa is a land of contradictions: blessed with an unspeakable potential in terms of natural resources, but with a huge gap in their (sustainable) utilisation and distribution. And wind power is no exception, being characterized by a series of mixed hindrances that can and must be overtaken, in order to deploy adequate solutions and maximise its development. 

The first change of pace is required at political and regulatory level. Designing ground-breaking and cross-sectorial energy policies in not an option anymore: from encouraging adequate public-private partnerships to boosting capacity and network building, from de-risking private investments to providing stimulus packages to builders and operators.  

However, the obstacles to be leapfrogged have also other nuances: as a matter of fact, if we put ourselves in an investor’s shoes, other major criticalities emerge, starting from the actual financial feasibility of wind power projects. Even though the last decades have seen a sharp decrease in the cost of wind energy solutions, with a competitive levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of 26-54 $/MWh, it still seems not to be a fully attainable threshold for many African countries, usually penalized by the capital costs of wind solutions, towering up to 75% of the budget. If we connect the dots, it is quite straightforward to claim that smarter and more perceptive policies could substantially contribute to reduce the capital costs, favoring the deployment at a larger scale.  

Finally, it must be noticed that, just like solar energy, wind is an intermittent source, but without storage capacity. It calls for a structured and rigorous approach in all the phases of the implementation of related power solutions. As one RES4Africa studies shows, even the embryonic phases are crucial. The example of Zambia speaks up: before 2015, no structured wind mapping was performed in the country, which was deemed as a low-potential one. This epistemological prison largely affected (and prevented) private investments which, actually, are very much needed in the country. In 2015, the MOE and the World Bank launched a renewable energy wind mapping for Zambia, and its outcome unveils a country endowed with a remarkable wind potential: an average wind speed at 130 m between 7 and 8 m/s, with an estimation of 1.400 MWs of energy deriving from wind by 2030. This attention must be cultivated and carried through all the phases of energy generation and distribution: the real game is played around a wise balance of supply and demand, which requires a meticulous planning as well as other complementary factors: adequate digital solutions to optimise the supply-demand balance, reliable transmission and distribution systems, readiness of the market and of the consumers’ segment, etc. 

In conclusion, we can rightfully claim that, when it comes to a satisfactory deployment of wind power solutions in Africa, much can still be done and much can be achieved. At stake there’s the very possibility of ensuring a transition to safe, reliable and sustainable energy for all, and wind power legitimately claims the role of a protagonist.  

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Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti

Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, which gathers more than 30 stakeholders to accelerate the renewable energy transformation in Africa, with Africa and for Africa. In his 30+ year-long career he has covered various positions at Enel, University of Pisa, IEA and IRENA. When it was still considered an unlikely option, he was already convinced that deploying renewable energy in Africa would result in a positive socioeconomic impact for its population. In 2012, he therefore embarked on the RES4Africa adventure, to support a wider participation of private players in delivering investments in Africa. He also coordinates renewAfrica, an industry-backed Initiative that advocates the creation of a European comprehensive Programme for RE investments in Africa, to be promoted and owned by EU institutions

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